Vat­i­can’s count of sex abuse could lead to law­suits

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY MERED­ITH SOMERS

The Vat­i­can on Tues­day for the first time de­tailed how it has han­dled more than 3,400 cases of sex­ual abuse re­ported since 2004, vow­ing to learn from its mis­takes and po­ten­tially open­ing it­self to more law­suits by ac­cept­ing that such abuse could fall un­der a U.N. treaty against torture.

The Holy See de­frocked 848 priests and slapped 2,572 clergy mem­bers with lesser sanc­tions in the past decade, said Arch­bishop Sil­vano To­masi, the Vat­i­can’s per­ma­nent ob­server to the United Na­tions.

The Holy See made rev­e­la­tion dur­ing the sec­ond and last day of tes­ti­mony be­fore the U.N. Com­mit­tee Against Torture in Geneva, where the Vat­i­can is an­swer­ing ques­tions about how it han­dled the clergy sex abuse scan­dal and whether the abuse qual­i­fies as torture.

“The crim­i­nal­iza­tion of sex­ual abuse of chil­dren can be con­sid­ered torture. This is what you have ar­tic­u­lated,” Arch­bishop To­masi told the com­mit­tee. “I am not a lawyer, but I am to as­sume this ap­pli­ca­tion has to be re­lated to the be­hav­ior of peo­ple in a mea­sure … con­sis­tent with the con­ven­tion.”

The Vat­i­can’s disclosure was a pos­i­tive sign for some, but ad­vo­cates for sex abuse vic­tims said more work needs to be done.

“The real is­sue is not how many child mo­lest­ing cler­ics there may be; the real is­sue is where are they,” said David Clo­hessy, na­tional direc­tor of the Sur­vivors Net­work of Those Abused by Priests. “Par­ents can’t pro­tect their chil­dren from num­bers. They can pro­tect their chil­dren from preda­tors if they know who and where those preda­tors are.”

Mr. Clo­hessy ac­knowl­edged that “any disclosure … beats no disclosure,” but said ad­vo­cates want the Vat­i­can to pres­sure bish­ops and other church lead­ers to dis­close the lo­ca­tions of child-mo­lest­ing cler­ics.

“It’s ir­re­spon­si­ble for bish­ops to say this priest is too dan­ger­ous to have in the parish, yet have him live in an apart­ment build­ing with kids and un­sus­pect­ing par­ents,” Mr. Clo­hessy said.

Re­ports from The As­so­ci­ated Press show that the Vat­i­can ad­dressed 401 cases of sex­ual abuse last year and about 3,400 cases in the past 10 years.

The Vat­i­can has han­dled about 400 cases per year since 2010, the year the scan­dal spread around the world.

Be­fore 2010, fewer sanc­tions were im­posed on about 100 priests each year, likely be­cause the Vat­i­can had not di­rected its bish­ops and lead­ing clergy to re­port abuse cases to au­thor­i­ties if lo­cal laws re­quired it.

“The cul­ture has changed,” Arch­bishop To­masi said. “There will cer­tainly be no pol­icy … where a priest is sim­ply shifted around to avoid pros­e­cu­tion or hide a mis­de­meanor or crime he has com­mit­ted. I think we have to ap­pre­ci­ate the evo­lu­tion of the cul­ture.”

Ac­cord­ing to the cen­tral of­fice of church statis­tics in the Vat­i­can Sec­re­tar­iat of State, the church has more than 400,000 priests and 5,000 bish­ops serv­ing its 1.196 bil­lion fol­low­ers world­wide.

Ash­ley E. McGuire of Catholic Voices USA said the disclosure is a “sign of things mov­ing for­ward.”

“We know for a fact the bulk of abuse took place decades ago,” Ms. McGuire said. “Maybe peo­ple are still com­ing for­ward, but I think the num­bers show … the per­cent­age in the last decade [of con­victed priests] is higher. This shows the sys­tems of jus­tice are work­ing, and that sug­gests co­op­er­a­tion and trans­parency.”

The Vat­i­can is a sig­na­tory to the U.N. anti-torture and child pro­tec­tion treaties, both of which re­quire pe­ri­odic re­ports about ef­forts to im­ple­ment poli­cies and pro­mote change.

In the days lead­ing up to the Vat­i­can’s ap­pear­ance be­fore the anti-torture com­mit­tee, the Rev. Fed­erico Lom­bardi, Vat­i­can spokesman, warned against “ide­o­log­i­cal pres­sure” if the con­ver­sa­tion turned to the abuse scan­dal.

Trans­parency and co­op­er­a­tion are two of the rea­sons for the Vat­i­can’s ap­pear­ance be­fore the U.N. com­mit­tee.

Ac­cord­ing to the Con­ven­tion Against Torture, torture is de­fined as “any act by which se­vere pain or suf­fer­ing, whether phys­i­cal or men­tal, is in­ten­tion­ally in­flicted on a per­son for such pur­poses as ob­tain­ing from him or a third per­son in­for­ma­tion or a con­fes­sion, pun­ish­ing him for an act he or a third per­son has com­mit­ted or is sus­pected of hav­ing com­mit­ted, or in­tim­i­dat­ing or co­erc­ing him or a third per­son, or for any rea­son based on dis­crim­i­na­tion of any kind, when such pain or suf­fer­ing is in­flicted by or at the in­sti­ga­tion of or with the con­sent or ac­qui­es­cence of a pub­lic of­fi­cial or other per­son act­ing in an of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity.”

The Holy See’s re­port on torture dates back to De­cem­ber 2012. The U.N. Com­mit­tee Against Torture is sched­uled to pre­sent its con­clu­sions May 23.

The U.N. Com­mit­tee on the Rights of the Child this year lam­basted the Vat­i­can for its han­dling of the sex­ual abuse scan­dal.

In a re­port is­sued in Fe­bru­ary, the com­mit­tee sug­gested that the Catholic Church up­date its canon to ap­prove ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, abor­tion, birth con­trol and pre­mar­i­tal sex.

KEY­STONE VIA AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Holy See de­frocked 848 priests and slapped 2,572 clergy mem­bers with lesser sanc­tions in the past decade, said Arch­bishop Sil­vano To­masi (above), the Vat­i­can’s per­ma­nent ob­server to the U.N.

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